Next up on my book review list is The Hunger Games trilogy by Suzanne Collins, comprising The Hunger Games, Catching Fire and Mockingjay. Katniss Everdeen is a sixteen-year-old girl living in a dystopian future America, called Panem, where the Capitol rules over its twelve subjugated districts. Every year, the Capitol selects two children from each district to fight to the death in a televised arena. In the first book, Katniss’s sister is chosen for the Games and she volunteers to go in her place to save her. This act triggers a sequence of events which will eventually have serious ramifications for Katniss, her district and all of Panem.
There is a lot to like about this trilogy, especially its characters. Katniss is an intriguing and relatable female protagonist, because she is not simply portrayed as a one-dimensional, selfless heroine; while she does have redeeming qualities, she also has plenty of flaws and this keeps her believable. Many of the other characters are well-realised too – I enjoy Haymitch’s drunken attitude to life and the teenage girl inside me is of course very taken with the kind, romantic Peeta.
Plot-wise, the Hunger Games of the first book and the Quarter Quell of the second book are both imaginative, dangerous and thrilling, with big question marks over the survival of the characters involved. Finding out what will happen in terms of the love triangle between Katniss, Peeta and Gale is also a good incentive to turn the page.
So I am generally quite happy with the first two installments in the series, but the third part is where it falls down for me. At this point the story really loses pace and the narrative becomes rather detached in nature. It starts to develop into a series of ‘this happened, and then this happened, and then this happened’, with far less dialogue or real grounding in the action of the scenes. Perhaps this was intentional on the author’s part, to reflect the detachment of Katniss from the people around her as her mental grasp on the world becomes more and more unstable, but it doesn’t quite work for me. In fact, it leaves me cold. I ought to be deeply distraught by the death of a certain beloved character towards the end of the final book but Collins’s writing fails to touch me. Even the ending seems distant in its telling – I am left feeling like an outsider watching on, rather than investing any emotional stake in the outcome.
What Collins does have going for her is that she does not belittle her young adult readers. On the romantic side of things she avoids any explicit content, but she certainly pulls no punches when it comes to blood and gore. There are a lot of grizzly injuries throughout the trilogy and some are rather stomach-turning, most especially the descriptions of burnt and flaking skin in the last book. This mature approach in turn lends itself to a crossover into an adult readership, giving it a broader appeal, a wider audience and greater success.
So, all in all, it is a decent trilogy but the engaging storytelling in the first two books is let down by the disappointing concluding installment.